SHAFAQNA – “When I tried to read the Quran in a mosque, I was taken into a separate room and interrogated about my motives. And when we came to the Religious Fundamentalism unit of my A Level in RE, my teacher advised me not to Google around it,” Yusuf Zubair.
A few days ago, a German school announced that it had banned Muslim students from using prayer mats in order to stop them from displaying their religion “in a provocative manner”. I read this with a sad sense of familiarity: it reminds me of the sense of fear and anxiety that I myself feel as a young British Muslim in 2017.
On a day-to-day basis, I am hyperconscious about where I am sitting in a café or a park, when I do my daily Quran reading — who around me might see the Arabic writing on my laptop screen or mobile phone app and feel threatened or incensed? Might they even call the police or refer me to a Prevent channel, as has happened to others? If I was doing my French homework, I know I would hardly be noticed, but I worry terribly about the piercing eyes around me when reading Arabic, especially the Quran.
A few weeks ago, I was even asked to leave a mosque for reading the Quran. Yes, you read it correctly. I was taken into an office where several anxious old men had called an emergency Cobra meeting of sorts, and interrogated about who I was, what I was doing and why I was there, because they had never seen me before. They were alarmed simply because I was sat on my own in a corner, looking down at my phone.
After explaining that I was just reading the Quran on a mobile app, they apologised but still disapproved of my particular reading of the Quran, in a mosque, and explained to me that they “have to be tight on security”. They said they were afraid of being spied on or attacked, because of “what is happening to Muslims in the world”.
I left feeling confused and perturbed. It surprised me how incredibly afraid ordinary Muslims in Britain have become of being victims of hate crimes or being wrongly suspected of crimes themselves by association.
In fact, for these same reasons, I must constantly be cautious about what I am Googling, what I write and publish on blogs, or whether or not I should retweet something about politics, religion or even humanitarian crises – anything which might possibly be misconstrued as “extremism.”
I study A Level Religious Studies at a well-behaved, high-achieving and religiously diverse grammar school, and one of our units is called Religious Fundamentalism. My teacher even encouraged the Muslim students in the class to exercise extreme caution when revising and searching for material for homework online. My fellow Muslim classmates and I consciously use pre-prepared books and worksheets to avoid having to search for “the Taliban” or “Isis” on the internet, and risk being monitored or erroneously flagged up to suspicious authorities.
This demonisation of Muslims is especially damaging when it is in schools, as in Germany right now, because it generates disillusionment and isolation from an educational system which should be a unifier and a driver toward social good. Furthermore, scaremongering among children creates further intolerant generations and entrenches our existing problems.
What I am faced with as a young British Muslim is a society that seems to be systemically hell-bent on presenting me as the “other”, and quarantining me. A 2014 study by Bristol University found that as a British Muslim man, I am 76 percent less likely to get a job offer than a Christian counterpart. In 2017, the BBC’s Inside Out London sent out two identical CVs, one with an English-sounding name, and the other with a Muslim name, to 100 job posts. It found that someone with a Muslim name was three times less likely to be accepted for an interview.
It is genuinely sad to live in a country where peace-loving, richly contributing, ordinary people just trying to live their lives as freely as everyone else in their society are slapped with the label “terrorist until proven innocent”. Endless examples of double standards and discrimination are likely to have a toxic impact on a whole generation of young Muslims. And that, in itself, is dangerous.